Last month I attended the launch of water industry regulator Ofwat’s report on ‘unlocking the value in customer data’. With the recent introduction of the ‘open water’ market, it’s certainly an interesting time in the sector and data sharing is top of the agenda with the introduction of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now less than 12 months away.

The foreword to the report opens with: “Ofwat regulates a vital public service and customers are at the heart of everything we do.” This is also true of debt collection and we think that all sectors could benefit from more open data sharing and a single customer view. As in the debt collection sector, GDPR posts both a big compliance challenge and a fantastic opportunity for water companies but slow take up of new technologies still needs to be addressed. Only three water companies have an app and most only use customer data for billing.

Ofwat’s Chief Executive Cathryn Ross said at the event: “Data allows companies to look at things through a customer lens” and there are a lot of useful insights within the report about how to empower customers with data and adapt services to make them more personalised and customer-centric.

Ofwat’s research shows that customers are not passive recipients but active participants in the water sector, and this is particularly the case when it comes to falling into arrears. It is easy to think when customers don’t pay that they aren’t actively doing something about it but we can use data to better understand why this happens and how best to avoid it/help customers when it does. As the report shows, effective use of customer data can actually drive behaviour change on both sides.

One of the six areas identified in the report as being the role of customer data in the water sector is ‘supporting customers who are struggling to pay their bills’. Sharing data on this amongst all parties, including internal collections team and external debt collection agencies, can lead to much better customer outcomes.

As the regulator, Ofwat’s priority is to work with water companies to modernise the sector and customer data will help to achieve this. They want to see good quality, well-understood, secure data as the basis of a strong foundation from which to build a data strategy and good data management being ‘business as usual’, so that the sector is able to move fast to adopt new technologies, be more innovative, respond to customer trends and drive efficiency. The ‘unlocking data value’ report lays out seven expectations on water companies related to:

  • Data innovation
  • Data strategy
  • Data quality
  • Customer empowerment
  • Data knowledge
  • Data security
  • Collaborative working

We’re also encouraging our members working in the water industry to adopt these expectations and implement the advice in the report.

The report can be found here.

Claire  Aynsley ,  Head of Regulatory Compliance and Standards. Credit Services Association

Technology, innovation, and data will all be key themes at the CSA’s UK Credit & Collections Conference in September 2017 with the Head of Policy & Engagement from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service both speaking. Find out more here.